NEW YORK — Megyn Kelly, the new host of the 9 a.m. hour of NBC’s “Today” show, is off to a soft start in the ratings.
In her first week as a cheerful morning personality, Kelly, a former Fox News anchor, drew an average of 2.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen, with 765,000 of them in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic prized by advertisers and network executives.
The total audience for “Megyn Kelly Today,” Kelly’s portion of the show, was roughly in line with what “Today” was reaching in the same hour before making the change, when it was hosted by Al Roker, Dylan Dreyer and Sheinelle Jones. In the coveted age bracket, the show’s audience for Kelly was 5 percent smaller than it was the previous week.
NBC hired Kelly, 46, in January. She had spent 12 years as part of the 21st Century Fox family and was a popular figure among the cable network’s conservative viewers. In an effort to keep her from leaving, Fox reportedly offered her an annual salary of $20 million, but to no avail.
Kelly’s first “Today” hour, which featured as its main guests the cast of the rebooted NBC sitcom “Will & Grace,” had an audience of 2.9 million viewers. The next day, 2.6 million viewers tuned in. By week’s end, the number had fallen to 2.3 million.
With its host reportedly making a salary of $17 million a year and a new set having been constructed within NBC’s Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, “Megyn Kelly Today” is more costly than the previous 9 a.m. segment of “Today.” Losing viewers, in the long run, would be a problem.
Kelly’s first week was highly scrutinized, and the early reviews for the show were brutal. She addressed them at the end of her hour on Friday, saying, “It’s been very exciting, it’s been so educational, I’ve been just so delighted by the media response, which is really” — she shook her head before continuing — “no.”
After a breath, she added, “The viewer response has been awesome!”
As Kelly moved away from the sometimes prosecutorial persona she inhabited during much of her tenure at Fox, there were a few bumpy moments. The “Will & Grace” star Debra Messing said after appearing on the show that she regretted having done so. Jane Fonda blanched when Kelly asked her to talk about plastic surgery procedures she has had. And a vulgarity uttered by a cameraman who inadvertently walked into a shot went viral.
Another awkward moment came Tuesday, two days after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, when Kelly cut off Tom Brokaw, the former longtime NBC anchor and network eminence, as he went into a lengthy discourse on gun rights and the National Rifle Association.
“Got it,” Kelly said, adding that she had to “leave it at that, Tom,” before shifting to a commercial break. (Brokaw later told The Washington Post that he was having problems with his hearing aid. “I’m a Kelly fan,” he added.)
Kelly has said that the show would be a mix of a talk show and a news show, and it has moved in both directions, from typical morning fare — celebrity interviews, a segment involving an adorable crime-fighting dog — to gritty discussions of the O.J. Simpson and Menendez brothers cases.
NBC has said from the start that it would be patient with the show. Andrew Lack, the network’s news chairman, told affiliates months ago that he did not expect things to be “perfect” with both of Kelly’s new programs — she also hosts a Sunday evening show, which is on hiatus — in the early going.
At least for now, it appears that Kelly’s main competitor, ABC’s “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” will maintain a lead in the ratings. In the top 56 media markets, “Live” beat “Megyn Kelly Today” by 21 percent in households last week, according to Nielsen.
Exact audience figures for last week’s episodes of “Live,” a syndicated show featuring Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, will not be available until next week. It averaged 2.8 million viewers in the week before Kelly’s debut, with 915,000 in the 25-54 age range.
For Kelly and NBC executives, there was one hopeful nugget buried in the Nielsen data: The number of viewers in the 25-54 demographic was 755,000 on Sept. 29, after having fallen to roughly 649,000 the day before.